Posts ByJessica Spengler, Author at PorchDrinking.com
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What a year we’ve had in Michigan, eh? Nothing went the way anyone expected and for many, it went worse than they ever imagined. If you’re still standing, congratulations. However, one thing that definitely stayed as expected: Despite shutdowns and sickness and protests and kidnapping threats and endless elections, Michigan brewers once again made some of the best beer in the country in 2020. Which, of course, makes my job that much more difficult. I’m certainly not new to beer, but I am brand new to picking the Michigan Best in Beer Year-End Honors which, at 300+ breweries, is a daunting task, to say the least.
That being said, I still get the good news–and there certainly was plenty of it. So, I’ve compiled what I can of the best in Michigan. Here’s to an absolutely horrible, but completely wonderful, 2020.
~Jess, Michigan Editor at PorchDrinking.com
Sunday, December 20, marks the 10-year anniversary for one of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s most celebrated breweries: Brewery Vivant. The brewery is the world’s first LEED certified commercial microbrewery and a Certified B Corporation. It is beloved among Michigan’s beer loving community for their Belgium-style brews, as well as their commitment to the local community. To celebrate 10 years, on December 17 the brewery released J’aison, a Petite Saison brewed with orange peel and Tellicherry black peppercorns. It is currently available on draft and in cans for sale at the brewpub.
One of the most wonderful things about Michigan, given its vicinity to the Great Lakes, is the multitude of mini climates that make the state ideal for growing grapes, hops, wheat and, of course, cherries. However, despite a great deal of hullaballoo over Michigan cherries, it is far from the only fruit grown in the Mitten State. Mirabelle plums, apples, pears and quince are also grown throughout Michigan’s western fruit belt, as well as the luscious and lovely blueberry. It stands to reason, then, that breweries throughout the fruit belt region embrace the blueberry and other fruits as a way to make authentically-Michigan, fruit-based beers from locally grown fruit. Few are more locally grown than Waypost Brewing Company, a farm brewery that prides itself on its ties to the land.
“We define Waypost as a farmhouse brewery, and our beers are created to reflect the place and the people who make it what it is. Whether that’s the water, the fruit or the feeling on the farm the day the beer was brewed, we want our product to be a reflection of this truly unique place,” said Waypost’s co-owner and brewer, Hannah Lee.
New Holland Brewing Company Dragon’s Milk is something of a legend. Not only was it one of the first Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stouts, but it has crushed the competition since it’s release, remaining the #1 best selling BBA in the United States. It was unsurprising, then, throughout the years, when the brewery released its Dragon’s Milk and Dragon’s Milk Reserve lines, all focusing on variations of the original stout. However, legends evolve, and often the result of that evolution is unexpected. The newest addition to the original line, Dragon’s Milk Solera, shows just that. Although it fits the high expectations of a Dragon’s Milk beer, it’s not a stout.
Have you heard the Juicy Gossip? Turns out, Bell’s Brewery has a new beer just in time for the holidays. Nope, it’s not a coffee or dessert stout, or even a nice Christmas ale. In fact, the only thing Christmasy about this brew is the amount of tea you spill to your family members about how much you love this – pale ale? Yup. Juicy Gossip is just that – a juicy pale ale all ready to squeeze some good stuff out of your holidays.
A variant of the brewery’s wildly popular Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and an already fine example of how to use coffee in beer, KBS Espresso gets an extra shot of coffee flavor thanks to being aged on espresso beans after being removed from the barrel.
For many years, being a craft beer drinker often meant maintaining happy ignorance about how many calories you’ve consumed after a few pints at the brewery or while at home, relaxing at the end of the day. The only truly low-calorie beers were slapped with the names of macro brands – Michelob Ultra, Miller 64, Bud Select 55 – and tasted just the way one would expect. Over the past year or so, demand for lower-calorie brews has increased and the craft beer industry is listening. Now, there are plenty of low-cal offerings from some of the biggest names in the business including Dogfish Head, Deschutes, Lakefront Brewery, New Belgium and Ballast Point. Even among these myriad options, Bell’s Brewery’s Light Hearted Ale (a Lo-Cal IPA) stands out.
The first Earth Day, which was April 22, 1970, was a long time coming. For generations, industry and progress had pushed the population to accept polluted air, polluted water, and polluted lives. No laws regulated what could and could not be done to the Earth, and so, industry had free reign over the environment. Despite what should have been obvious, many people had not thought about the impact of continuous and unregulated pollution. Thankfully, there were still many who did.
I realize I always go on about how hard it is for breweries to stand out in Michigan because there are so many of them. But Michigan is fifth in the nation with more than 300 breweries, so it’s not hard to imagine how easy it is for a brewery to fall through the cracks. In 2015, this was likely on the minds of Travis Fritts and Nate Rykse when they founded Old Nation Brewing Company in Williamston, Michigan. As it turns out, they had absolutely nothing to worry about, even after a bit of a slow start.
It’s that time of year again! The fall release of New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk Reserve is here! This time around the beer is a comforting treat with a warm, wholesome and tasty appeal: Oatmeal Cookie.
Here in West Michigan and throughout the state, it’s hard to believe Perrin Brewing Company hasn’t reached the level of Bell’s or Founders. The quality of their beers, from the easy-drinking No Problems Session IPA to the renowned No Rules Porter, is only topped by the killer events and festivals they throw. Nowhere is their top-notch beer crafting more apparent than in their flagship brew, Perrin Black Ale.
Every 4th of July, citizens across the U.S. gather together to watch their local parade. Red, white and blue floats, outfits and decorations dominate the show, music fills the air, and kids wait in anticipation for candy. Some parades have tractors, some have two-story floats, and others have dancers and singers. While not everyone gets exactly the same show, there are a few parade commonalities across the country that spectators are guaranteed to see. For this special 4th of July edition of our Ultimate 6er, we bring you six of those common elements and the beers that go alongside them.
Michigan is one of those places that never stops. Despite jokes about two seasons (winter and road construction) the truth is, every season begins and ends and brings with it the sort of activities that seem as if they only happen in movies. There is skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, gardens of wildflowers and baby animals in spring, and hills and landscapes full of red, yellow and orange in the fall. It’s summer, however, when Michigan truly comes alive, mostly because the state is littered with natural and human-made beauties that couldn’t possibly be in one area of the world. It’s with this in mind that for this week’s Ultimate 6er, we have six Michigan summer adventures and the beers that will make them even better.
Beer is poetry. It takes a great deal of understanding and thoughtfulness to make a beer that speaks to drinkers and keeps them coming back for more. Putting together a genuinely exquisite beer requires the consideration of each part individually, from the water to the hops, from the malt to the yeast. Over time, those elements become part of one, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, time will improve it even more. Poetry is much the same. With thorough understanding and thoughtfulness, a poem can last for generations, sitting on our tongues and inspiring whomever it touches. It was this inspiration that led Bell’s Brewery to honor one of Larry Bell’s favorite poets, Walt Whitman, with the launched of their Leaves of Grass series. The first release, Song of Myself, is a German-inspired American IPA. Its release in May 2019 coincided with Whitman’s 200th birthday.
Spring is starting to creep back into our lives, blessing West Michigan with warm weather, green grass and lighter beers. However, it’s still just cold enough to warm up with a stout, and Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Dramanatrixxx is good enough to leave you wishing for one more snow day.
For January, my husband and I decided to take part in Dry January, a month of staying away from all alcohol. For many, this month is meant to kick start better habits and possibly pinpoint problems with drinking, but we are doing it to see what sort of impact it might have on our weight (and possibly our pocketbook). I have certainly appreciated the lack of accidental hangovers as well.
Living in Michigan as a beer lover is pretty much the best. You can’t throw a beer bottle without hitting a brewery, particularly in West Michigan. Because of this, our standards are quite high, and we do not suffer bad beer to live. In the same note, to stand out, breweries must be more than above average at something. Saugatuck Brewing Company is one such brewery, and what they excel at is making layered, complex and all around tasty beers. One of their mainstays is Neapolitan Milk Stout, a beer I particularly like, and have said so on this website. Because of my nice profile, Saugatuck contacted PorchDrinking.com and asked if we’d like to profile the barrel aged version of Neapolitan, their Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Neapolitian MIlk Stout, to which I immediately said hell yes.
Christmas time is a time of year filled with tradition, from holiday parties, to caroling, to big, hearty, meals filled with comfort food. For many families, traditions also include baking all the cookies. All these cookies are given out during cookie exchanges, to the mail carriers, to uncles, aunts and cousins, and certainly, they will also end up in gifts to you from others as well. With all these cookies, it doesn’t take long before you are sick of all that sugar. That’s when it’s time to break open some less-than-obvious beer pairings to make those cookies seem new again.
This fall and winter, if you’re looking for a dark beer without the thick texture of a stout or porter, look no further than Keweenaw Brewing Company Widow Maker Black Ale.
Located in Houghton, Michigan at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Keweenaw Brewing Company was an early entry in the craft beer boom of the 2000s. This is unsurprising, given that Houghton is not only a college town (home to Michigan Technological University), but a cold and snowy one, with little to do in the winters but ski, snowmobile and drink. Founders Dick Gray and Paul Boissevain opened up their tap room in the heart of downtown Houghton, and it was an immediate hit with students and staff alike. Widow Maker is one of their “core ales, ” alongside Pick Axe Blonde Ale, Red Jacket Amber Ale and November Gale Pale Ale.
Once upon a time, I was a young person who only drank Bud Light. You couldn’t get me in the same room with a craft beer. My (now) husband could not stand it, but he mostly just gave me a little hell while he drank his microbrews. However, his frustration got the better of him one day and he proclaimed, “That’s it! We need to find you something that isn’t Bud Light. Anything.”
I hesitantly agreed and he went to his fridge, coming back with a beer he had already picked specifically for me. I drank it. I didn’t just like it, I loved it. Little did I know that this beer would lead me to a career and to a passion that I would hold for the rest of my life. That beer was Oberon Ale from Bell’s Brewery.